Rory McIlroy confessed that he feared that The Open would always be the hardest major to win. But all those fears melted away as he tapped in for victory and raised the Claret Jug to the heavens at Royal Liverpool on Sunday to tick the third leg of the career Grand Slam off his list.
He might have won three Irish titles on links courses but the pride of Co Down was never sure he had the game to cope with The Open until recently.
Yet preparing properly for golf’s oldest major for the first time, McIlroy knows now what Pádraig Harrington always said was possible — he can become a multiple Open winner.
Reflecting on his third major victory in just 24 starts and his first Open at the seventh attempt, McIlroy put thoughts of the career Grand Slam aside for a moment to assess the significance of his victory in golf’s oldest championship.
Still grinning, he said: “It feels incredible. In some ways I felt like this could be the hardest one to win, just because it's at home.
“Links golf, you know I've struggled the last few years but I really put my mind to it this year and just really relished wanting to come to The Open and whatever conditions I got I was going to play the way I should.
"I just feel like all the hard work I put in has paid off.”
McIlroy said he wanted to silence the doubters — and “some of the demons in my own head” — when he won his first major at the US Open by eight shots at Congressional in 2011 having blown the Masters with a closing 80 just 10 weeks earlier.
He then won his second major in the 2012 US PGA to again prove he could turn great form into a major win.
This time he was silencing the doubters yet again having gone through a major slump last year with his change of clubs and management and the eventual disintegration of his relationship with Caroline Wozniacki.
“I think every major win is different,” he said. “Congressional was maybe silencing the doubters and battling some of the demons I had in my own head after losing the Masters with a very poor back nine.
“Kiawah was coming off a bit of a slump in form but still having a good year. I felt like in 2012 the only thing my year needed was a major.
“It has been a difficult 18 months at times since the start of 2013 but winning the Claret Jug makes it all worthwhile.
“It is maybe like Congressional because I had to silence a few doubters about how I could play links golf, how I could handle a lead, how I would play on a Friday.
“Winning the Open Championship, the home major for guys like myself, it is a very special championship and I am very honoured.”
His decision to play 36 holes at Hoylake and then travel to Royal Aberdeen for the Scottish Open proved to be an inspired one.
Having won the Silver Medal awarded to the leading amateur alongside Champion Golfer Pádraig Harrington in 2007, he appeared destined for Open glory.
Harrington said as much when he mentioned McIlroy in his victory speech.
“I’d like to congratulate Rory on his fine achievement,” Harrington said. “I’m glad I got in before he wins one.
“I am sure he will win a few Open Championships in the future. He is a fine talent and he proved it this week.”
It took seven years to come up with the winning formula.
He failed to qualify for The Open at Royal Birkdale in 2008, where Harrington retained the title having prepared by winning the Irish PGA at The European Club.
The in 2009, McIlroy played on parkland terrain at Loch Lomond the week before and tied for 47th at Turnberry.
At St Andrews in 2010, where he has a sensational sub-70 scoring average — a great omen for his title defence next year — he took the week off before going to the Home of Golf.
An opening 63 gave him the lead but was blown away in high winds on Friday and did well to rally to third.
In 2011 serious questions were asked about his ability as a links player as he game 25th behind Clarke at Sandwich having taken three weeks off following his US Open victory.
Miffed by his play and goaded by a reporter at the finish, he snapped: “I'm not a fan of golf tournaments that are, you know, the outcome's predicted so much by the weather.
”It's not my sort of golf."
In 2012 he came 60th at Royal Lytham after a two week break and last year he missed the cut for the first time with his game in shreds having taken two weeks off to get ready for Muirfield at home.
Explaining that every major has been a learning experience, he said: “You need experience like 2010, having the first round lead in The Open and losing it.
“Ok, I came back and finished third but you need experiences like that to learn from.
“I definitely learned a lot from that day, just as I learned a lot from my day at Augusta in 2011. You need all these little experiences.
“Did I think that I could do it this year? I did. My game was in good shape, I had won earlier in the year at Wentworth.
“I felt like I was just coming into form and just needed something to click. Everything clicked this week.”
With his life off the course now totally dedicated to playing golf, it was different this year and playing in Aberdeen the week before The Open made all the difference.
He said: “It really did. Just to play four competitive rounds on a links course was huge for me and I felt very comfortable coming in this week.
“I had two early practice rounds, I got two early looks at the golf course and I was really comfortable.
“I was like, ‘Right, I know where I can make the birdies, I know the scoring holes, I know there's a few others.’
“I knew there was birdies out there for me. I did enough over the first three days, even though today wasn't as good as the last three days I was able to do enough and I had enough of a cushion to bring it home.”
Leading by six with a round to go, he had no intention of making the final round so compelling.
He joked: “I didn't mean to make it interesting! You know, bogeying the par fifth fifth hole and then compounding that error with a bogey at six, that's when I really had to steady the ship and it was a great up and down at seven and then the birdie at nine was huge.
"The birdies at 9 and 10 were massive for me, just to give me a little bit of a cushion, especially when Sergio was pushing me all the way and made eagle on 10.
"So those birdies on 9 and 10 were crucial and then whenever I made birdie at 16, I knew that was pretty much it.
"To go into the final two holes three ahead, that was where I won The Open.
“I felt very, very calm inside. I knew I still had a bit of a gap, a bit of cushion and I kept just telling myself, 'Hit your shots, stick to what you're doing, execute your game plan and if you can do that, then everything will be okay'.
"It's absolutely incredible. Even to see my name on there already with all the great players in the world, the great players in the past...
"And it's my third major, it's my third different major. I'm one away from the career Grand Slam. It's just been an incredible week and it hasn't quite sunk in yet.”